Robotics and Meccano

Industrial Robotics has become well established in Industry.  Machines that can move parts, and carry out assembly processes with accuracy and precision repeatedly, have taken their place on the factory floor.   Robotics are part of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) where parts are designed specifically to be easily made by machines, and easily assembled by robots.   Each computer aided designed part (CAD) is manufactured by automation, stored in a known location in an automated storage and retrieval system, transported to the assembly point, orientated, loaded, jigged and assembled by transporters and robots.  The result is a product which is produced round the clock, with minimal wastage, of excellent quality, and with no humans in sight. 

Robots are computer controlled machines designed to usually have a number of degrees of freedom or joints.  They are re-programmable manipulators.  Each has an end effector, which can grip or manipulate, but it could also be a tool such as a welding gun or drill.

Robots consist of a series of structures, with joints between the various components, each of which is controlled by a motor, which can be either a stepper motors, or a servo-motor.  Each joint motion is monitored so that the computer which controls it  'knows where it is', that is - it has feedback.  

The Meccano system is ideal as a small scale engineering to build robots, which need not differ at all from the real thing, even though there may be a difference in scale.  Many such robots have been built in Meccano, with computer control, just like their full size counterparts.   This website is designed to assist in understanding and building Robots from Meccano.

No one who has seen a modern robot at work can fail to be impressed by these modern marvels of technology. For the Meccanoman who is always on the lookout for a new model, especially if he is interested in computer control, the field of robotics and automation can offer rich rewards.

It may be daunting to attempt to reproduce the actions of one of these machines, and the problem of coping with rapidly moving pieces of equipment in multiple planes simultaneously.  To add to this, such machines must also interface with a factory environment, where other factors such as conveyors and even fellow robots may be working in unison, each action precisely timed to fit in with the overall scheme of things.

The technology of robotics offers unparalled interest and challenge to the Meccanoman who is involved in small scale engineering.  There is no field of robotics and flexible manufacturing or automation that cannot be represented using the Meccano system, which is in fact the perfect medium for building some extremely interesting structures and machines.  He is at a distinct advantage because of his ready access to wide range of preformed parts, and the means therefore to rapidly evolve a pieceof machinery which otherwise would require complex manufacture.

Models are often constructed in the real world as a type of breadboarding, to demonstrate the feasibility of a particular idea or system.  This obviates excessive capital expenditure, and allows experimentation, and easy alteration of structure and function.  

A small robot built from Meccano in no way differs in function from its larger counterpart.  The size may be different, but the electronics and control software are exactly the same.  As will be shown, there are a number of interesting robot configurations, and at their simplest level they could be controlled by a simple system of on/off switches.  The Meccanoman however, who has a simple computer or programmable logic controller, will be able to automate the entire operation, and will thus enter a new sphere of interest for himself, with a new awareness of the modern manufacturing process.    For the world of automation means computer integrated manufacturing (C.I.M):

* Parts must be designed specifically to ease the manufacturing process.  This means minimal handling, minimal manufacturing steps, ease of storage, ease of orientation for placement in machines and in storage, and ease of mating with fellow components.  All this is an art in itself, and a fascinating study.

* The means to store and retrieve parts and devices, in fact automated storage and retrieval (a wonderful subject for a computer controlled model).

* Movements of parts and components to and from the manufacturing process and storage (why not computer controlled conveyers?).

* Automated machines (computer numerical control) and robotic interfacing for manufacture where needed.

All of this brings decided cost advantages.  There is a marked reduction of wastage, as there is a sumultaneous improvement in the quality of products. The machines can work continuously, and there can be reduced inventories and stocks.  

The name 'robot' is derived from the Czech term 'robota' meaning drudgery or work performed in servitude to a master.  Its use to characterise modern robots is the result of a 1927 play by Karl Capeck titled 'R.U.R.' or Russum's Universal Robots. The first robot as we know it today was built in the United States by Unimation for the General Motors c\Company in 1961.  There has been an explosive  increase in their use since that time.

A robot is a Reprogrammable Multi-functional Manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmeable motion for the performance of a variety of tasks.  Basically a robot is a device with a single arm for manipulating tools or parts through a programmed sequence of motions through space.

Reprogrammable control is through a controller (on the desk or on the machine) which is usually a computer with memory and a program.  The controller is programmed to send signals to the various motors which control movements, and to respond to various sensory devices, which can be impulse or revolution counters, limit switches, angular measurement devices, optical encoders and the like.   Each specific action can therefore be accurately reproduced, and can even be easily altered to take into account subtle changes of design or size.   The robot must be taught these sequence of movements, and this can even be achieved off the factory floor in computer simulations of the entire manufacturing process.

All robots therefore consist of three main elements:

A Manipulator - the basic mechanical unit responsible for performing the work

A Controller  and program - responsible for directing the movements of the manipulator.

A power supply - the energy source for the manipulator and its controller

Michael Adler June 2008





1. Asea IRb6 Industrial Robot (MP 70)

2. Robot Tower of Hanoi

3. Small Industrial Robot


Top | Home Page | Recent Updates